APG probes charges of Army dumping cover-up in N.Y. Allegations surface after documents are unsealed in U.S. court in Buffalo.

May 16, 1991|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

Officials at Aberdeen Proving Ground are looking into allegations that military personnel at the facility participated in a cover-up involving alleged Army dumping at the infamous Love Canal hazardous waste dump site in New York.

The allegation of a cover-up surfaced this week with the unsealing of documents in a federal court case in Buffalo, N.Y. The civil trial, which has been going on for six months, is being held to determine who is liable for the $700 million in cleanup costs and damages associated with Love Canal dump site, which became a symbol of the nation's hazardous waste problems in the late 1970s.

John Yaquiant, a proving ground spokesman, said yesterday that officials were checking into the allegations of a cover-up but had no immediate response.

The federal government and state of New York are claiming that Dallas-based Occidental Chemical Corp. is solely responsible for the cleanup, but Occidental is claiming that the Army and local governments in Niagara Falls, N.Y., also dumped waste at Love Canal and should be held partly responsible.

Occidental concedes that a company it bought in 1968, Hooker Chemicals & Plastics Corp., dumped 22,000 tons of waste at the Love Canal site between 1942 and 1954. Waste from the site began surfacing in the 1970s and eventually caused 2,500 residents to flee the area.

The allegations relating to the proving ground were contained in a four-page internal Justice Department memo dated April 3, 1980. The memo was unsealed in the trial Tuesday.

The memo states that the allegations came from a former civilian employee of the Army, identified only as "Mr. X," who charged that Army officers had documents detailing the alleged Army dumping on file at the proving ground. "Mr. X said that the Army is very sensitive about this information because of potential tort liability, and will cause the documents to 'disappear' if necessary," according to the Justice Department memo.

Mr. X, according to the memo, charged that the Army dumped "radioactive rocket fuel" and a chemical called trichloroaniline at Love Canal in the 1940s or 1950s. The memo also details allegations that the Army dumped trichloroaniline in a tributary of the Gunpowder River bordering the proving ground around the same time.

Yaquiant, the proving ground spokesman, said trichloroaniline is a byproduct of a substance known as "CC2," which was used in the 1940s at the proving ground to impregnate clothing to protect soldiers against chemical weapons. He said environmental officials at the proving ground were aware that CC2 byproducts had been dumped in the Gunpowder in the 1940s, adding that a 1987 Army study showed that people or animals would need to ingest "massive" amounts of the material to be harmed.

The documents relating to the alleged Army dumping at Love Canal were never found, according to testimony in the New York trial. The judge in the trial this week chastised the Justice Department for what he called a lax investigation of the allegations.

The 1980 memo states that the documents were stored in Building E-4585 at the proving ground. The building houses part of the Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency, which oversees hazardous waste cleanup at Army installations around the world.

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